With Bushwick’s great DIY venue and wellness center, Body Actualized, closing this month and having a today, a member of the community tells us what THE VIBE meant to her.
The moment I arrived in LA, fresh out of college in the spring of 2011, all of my carefully laid plans unraveled: my friend suddenly had a live-in girlfriend who nixed my staying there, the job I’d lined up fell through and it wasn’t nearly as fun and valorizing getting around by bike as I’d hoped. After many long months in the relentless sunshine I broke down and called friends for help. What should I do? Where should I go? Their answer was Brooklyn and that night, after almost getting run over by a mint Datsun in Echo Park, I bought a one-way ticket to JFK.
I had always been drawn to the electric buzz of hope and desperation that New York City’s rich immigrant history brings to it. And I was also drawn to be in Brooklyn, particularly, by the happenings I’d seen from afar, through my computer screen, as an avid follower of Altered Zones music blog.
Upon arrival in Brooklyn I took up residence in a dilapidated apartment shared with too many people and became a barista. It was a trying and bizarre time that led me to taking a lot of risks. I attended tons of events and frequented my neighborhood bars on the daily. It was depressing, honestly. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a niche or a place I could actually be myself. Everywhere I went was filled with cigarette smoke and bad sound (both of which I’d had enough of in college). Finally an event popped into my notifications that caught my eye: a passing Like of mine, Body Actualized Center, was presenting Franco Falsini’s music with Future Shuttle and a “vibey” elixir bar. What could that possibly mean?
That night I entered the space alone and weary, and left feeling full of love and confusion. Seemed like almost nobody in the place was drunk and people were freely dancing, hugging and lounging around Body Actualized Center as if it were their own private living room. After that night I began attending more of their events, always feeling simultaneously awkward and elated to be there among these tripped-out weirdos exploring sound and new ways of living.
In September of 2012 I met my girlfriend at the now defunct Wreck Room bar on Flushing. She was funny, nice and a total babe. After trying my best to be coy she gave me the nod and suggested we go back to her house. When we rounded the corner on Troutman and she fumbled with her keys outside Body my heart sang. “You live here? People live here?” She laughed and we went inside, to a Body Actualized I hadn’t yet seen. The space was empty save for three beautiful people laughing in the kitchen. Shyness got the best of me while my unsuspecting senses were flooded by the aesthetic of The Center and the gorgeous scent of palo santo and sage smoke swirled amongst massive crystals and palm trees all bathed in sensual pink and blue light. Thus began my two-year trip into the ongoing experiment and music festival that was Body Actualized Center.
Body was begun with a set of ethos that its founders developed after long stints in the DIY communities of NYC and beyond. The pioneers, former participants in the groundbreaking space Market Hotel, identified a lack of well curated, soulful, experimental dance parties in the NYC scene and sought to originate alternatives. During the incubation period, Aurora Halal (DJ and curator of the party Mutual Dreaming and festival Sustain-Release), Jan Woo (DJ and guru extraordinaire) and Etienne Duguay (off-the-grid musician and ideator) coined the phrase “healthy hedonism,” or fun centered around non-destructive, non-violent substances and actions to describe their mission. And so it was born. Halal dubbed the project Body Actualized and some months later Jan, Etienne and Brian Sweeny (master viber) signed a lease on 143 Troutman St. and began to infiltrate NYC and the world at large with THE VIBE.
After meeting my girlfriend I found myself living at Body more than my own apartment, eschewing booze for “elixirs” and leaving awkwardness behind in a series of tantric and yogic healing ceremonies that changed my life forever. It took some coercing but I stopped eating bodega sandwiches every day and started incorporating raw foods, weird oils and supplements into my diet. My body was awakened and my soul fulfilled. I’d found my niche! Just like me, the space attracted all persons seeking alternative ways of living. As Brian Sweeny, longtime manager of the space, wrote in his announcement, “the vision changed to incorporate a lifestyle and beautiful message that resounded with everyone. It quickly became a beloved home to the Bushwick artistic, spiritual and mystical communities [sustained by] yoga classes, insane hangouts, music, parties, lectures, intentional talks, self help and awareness rising exercises and performance art happening on the regular.”
Operations at The Center were originally structured around regular meetings, daily yoga and a jam-packed schedule of evening events. In addition to these core programming elements, the space housed caretakers and folks seeking to have their limits of personal space and notions of privacy expanded. It was always populated but with clear direction. Every day was different. One moment there’d be an all night rave, the next a midday synthy jam session with crystal singing bowls and homemade drums, and the next a nontraditional yoga class with a surprise ending: the instructor urging us all to “love and respect your pussy!” Body Actualized Center was a space of healing and growth for all parties involved, a space and idea fostered by a group people of committed to journeying to the heart of what community, inclusion and being VIBEY means.
The discussions surrounding Body Actualized Center, its mission, and the execution of said mission have been in flux and ongoing since the very first day it began. And that was the point! Complete community chaos. But as the din of voices (and the cost of rent) rose many original participants dipped out to use the knowledge they’d accumulated during their time at the Center to begin other projects. A large portion of the female identified members and participants formed Moon Church, dedicated to witchy happenings, and many members moved to Los Angeles to pursue their music making and lifestyle passions in the heartland of healthy hedonism. Core member Angelina Dreem took what she learned about community oriented learning and open communication to engineer POWRPLNT, a free digital arts learning curriculum to serve underprivileged communities. Brian Sweeny is looking into other spaces and continuing the vibe compound-style in upstate New York while Jan Woo and Etienne Duguay are planning to expand the vibe internationally by building a cafe with Mantra Mundana in Thailand and a pop-up Body Actualized Center in Berlin.
About Body Actualized Center closing Etienne gleefully said “let it die!” But for me it isn’t that simple. Yes life is a process of renewal and decay but there’s something very peculiar happening in New York City right now. Beautiful buildings from the late 1800s being demolished to make way for condos, all manner of longtime establishments shuttering and nearly every single DIY space I can think of being forced out by astronomical rents (or worse, international media companies who used to be punk). Instead of my friends sleepily emerging from their dilapidated band vans on the sidewalks of Bushwick I see infantile college students in brand new BMW SUVs. Is New York City becoming the suburbs? It’s possible. People with money often seek insularity and usually don’t want their consciousness expanded or personal space encroached upon. But the initiated from Body Actualized Center are being set loose on the world now and seek to infuse every possible corner of it with love.